Improved performance key to Falconets progression

Joy Duru and Anam Imo in action against Haiti Catherine Ivill/FIFA

Nigeria's persistence in their final Group D clash against China on Monday sealed their spot in Women's Under-20 World Cup in France.

The Falconets, trailing their Chinese opponents, were seconds from being eliminated from the tournament, but thanks to a huge slice of luck -- an own-goal from Jiaxing Dou -- set up a last eight clash against Spain.

While the Nigerians struggled in their three group fixtures, scoring just two goals, Spain had no such problems, finishing top of a strong Group D ahead of Japan and the United States.

But despite the struggles in securing a seventh quarter-final spot in nine tournaments, the players are optimistic of causing an upset against the Europeans.

"The quarter-finals won't be easy, but we will fight to the finish," Peace Efih told FIFA.com. "We believe in putting out our best every time. With our togetherness, we believe we will get somewhere."

Regardless of the doggedness exhibited by the Falconets in their final group game on Monday, their overall showing doesn't leave much optimism, and will need to greatly improve to stand a chance of replicating a Spain victory like they did two years ago in Papua New Guinea.

Aside from a glaring creativity problem which has seen striker Rasheedat Ajibade struggle for goals at the tournament, Nigeria's group-stage possession by numbers --- 46, 47 and 47 percent -- and a rising foul count committed in each of the three games -- 14,17 and 21-- suggests a side that could be outsmarted by a clinical team.

The defensive line needs to offer Chiamaka Nnadozie, who has been excellent in goal, more protection against Spain, notably from the prolific Patricia Guijarro, who scored four goals against Paraguay.

If coach Christopher Danjuma can get his ladies to turn the corner against Spain on Thursday at the Stade Guy Piriou, Concarneau, then perhaps Nigeria could stand a chance of sealing a semi-final spot for the fourth time at this level.